Florida fisherman hooked quite a haul in June: Instead of reeling in a red grouper, he snagged himself an air-to-air missile that had been fired by an F-15 fighter jet.
Longtime commercial fisherman Rodney Saloman says he was longlining in the Gulf of Mexico when he snagged the corroded missile about 50 miles off Panama City, Florida. He said he wasn’t sure if the eight-foot weapon was live, so he packed it—very delicately—in ice until he returned to port.
“I had it secure,” he told reporters. “I kept it cool.”
Ten days later, Saloman and his crew aboard Bold Venture returned to their home port of Madeira Beach, near St. Petersburg, Florida, where the U.S. Air Force greeted him with a bomb squad. Officials initially said they believed the missile “was live and in a very unstable state” and was apt to explode at any moment.
The news certainly surprised Saloman, who recalls that, “I had it strapped to the roof of my boat as we rode through lightning storms.” It subsequently turned out that Saloman had been in even less danger than he thought. Upon further inspection the Air Force was able to conclude that it was one of their telemetry missiles, which are not packed with high explosives but rather with highly sensitive electronics used to record and transmit tracking and position data. The missile had been fired from an F-15 during a test in August 2004.
Because the missile posed no threat, Saloman asked if he could keep the catch as a souvenir. But Samuel King, a spokesman for Eglin Air Force Base near Destin, Florida, told him too much sensitive technology was still inside the missile. “Once we found out it was ours, our guidance was that it needed to be destroyed,” King said.
The Air Force and Navy conduct numerous military tests over Gulf Coast waters off the Panhandle, and more than 300 test missiles are fired every year in this area, according to King.
In fact, Saloman caught another missile a few days later. He again reported it to the Air Force but did not bring it back to port. He told officials it was beeping, so he threw it back.
This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.